This coming weekend, March 22-23 Sydney will be hosting Agave Love which sounds like a fantastic confluence of agave producers and lovers. I recently chatted with the organizer, longtime Sydney restauranteur Phil Bayly about the event, his background, and the state of mezcal in Australia. Agave Love’s Facebook page has lots of updated information so take a look.
Can you tell me a bit about your background with agave distillates?
I started working with Tequila in 1980 with Tomas Estes at his first Cafe Pacifico, Amsterdam.
Together we set up 18 Tequila Bars in six countries in cities like Paris, London, Milan, and Cologne. In the early 90’s I returned to Australia which is where I am from. I opened a Cafe Pacifico in Sydney in 1997 the first tequila bar in Australia and ran it for 16 years. I was awarded the first Distinctivo T by the CRT in the Southern Hemisphere in 2006.
I have been going to Mexico regularly since the early 80’s visiting distilleries but with my focus on tequila. I first went to Oaxaca in ’85 to see and visit some palenques. It was pretty wild then, mind you not much has really changed. I always had an interest in mezcal and had a small range in Sydney from the beginning especially Ultramarine.
As mezcal started to grow I began to follow it and expand my collection making various trips to Oaxaca to see what I could find and bring back. I met Graciela for Real Minero in the late 2000’s and that grew my interest in the different varietals using different agaves. From there I met Ivan Saldaña and my passion grew from the drink to the plant itself.
How did you come up with the idea of creating a conference about tequila and mezcal?
From visiting Mexico and the tequila region then to Oaxaca the thing that struck me was it is not just about the drink but it is the people behind it. I have met and been inspired by so many amazing people like the ones I have mentioned and others like Ron Cooper and in particular the producers themselves I decided to ask them if they would consider coming to Australia so the people here could have the opportunity to meet and hear these people in person so they may be inspired as I have and get a greater understanding and appreciation of the variety of styles and regions. It took me years to educate Australians about tequila and they finally got it!
We have had a long history here in Australia of a market flooded with false tequila, we have finally overcome that.
What I have found is that with the influx of mezcal, the price and the intensities and complexities in flavours that it was really confusing Australians and they were wanting to drink mezcal like tequila. I saw a need to really educate them in to understanding what these spirits are and why they are so different and how to appreciate them.
Tell me about the specific format of Agave Love
I have presented at a lot of bar shows around the world and the one thing I don’t like about them is that they are in big halls located usually out of the centre of cities and it is all about brand not really category so I picked some of my favourite small bars which are all within walking distance and asked them if they would come on board to host this event. Everyone of them embraced the concept and it has grown from there.
I wanted to create more intimate environments that relate to the spirits. I also did not want to do a 101 class although I did make one talk for the virgins, but I wanted to take people to the next level and really go deep into these categories. It would seem to me a waste to have these professionals just scratching the surface after coming all the way here.
I also wanted to create a situation where it was not possible to go to everything. I want to leave people hungry to want to know more and hopefully compare notes of what they had missed so there are 46 different sessions over two days but it will only be possible to get to a maximum of eight from the whole conference.
I found it necessary to add another venue just for distributors to be face to face with consumers and talk about their products. This I have called Agave Central with about 50 different brands of tequila, mezcal, raicilla, and sotol; not to mention all the different expressions. This will be set up similar to ‘Whisky live’ where it is not about who has the biggest stand, it is a table with a table cloth and let the products speak for themselves.
All the tastings will be blind with a range of six different brands in each. I have selected who may have their products where so as to keep it even and balanced on topic.